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Video transcript

on the 4th floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and we're looking at Robert Rauschenberg's bed this is a combine not quite a sculpture not quite a painting from 1955 so combine means a combination of painting and sculpture well John's and Rauschenberg were actually thinking about their art as between art and life and what is that narrow space between the two so instead of thinking about it between painting and sculpture between these two things that symbolize fine art in the grand tradition inserting life into that conversation life and wit so what we're looking at is in fact the stuff of a real bed we're looking at a real pillow we're looking at a real pillow case at a handmade quilted blanket sheets but if you look closely you're also seeing pencil and paint and of course all of this has been taken out of the horizontal where you could lie down on this and put up on the wall I'm reminded of Pollock of Pollock painting on the floor and then those pieces of canvas being picked up and put on the walls of a museum or a gallery and the other way I'm reminded of Pollock is in all the drips that we're seeing here and this is a reference that rauschenberg wanted you to come to the Pollack's are just five years old the great drip paintings that's exactly right this artist wanted you to be thinking about Pollock and this is really a confrontation with Pollock with Abstract Expressionism broadly that was the dominant contemporary art of this moment 1955 Pollock would die the following year when I think about after at Expressionism I think about the personal subjective experience of the artist on the canvas and so I guess it makes sense to me that this is a bed a place of our unconscious of our dreams but I think it's also tongue-in-cheek this notion that the abstract expressionist canvas was somehow the manifestation of the internal state of the artist Rauschenberg is saying you really believe that well let me give you the actual server arena of the dream I'm going to give you my bed so you think he's making fun in a way absolutely art historians that sometimes talked about the kind of oedipal relationship between ration burger young artists and the abstract expressionist that he was friends with at this time so that makes this a kind of in joke 1955 in the work of people like Johnson rauschenberg is the moment when art moves from being modernist in its sincerity to a kind of postmodern attitude that is responsive and that is self-aware a kind of hyper self-awareness so we could understand that as a switch between modernism to post-modernism or sincerity to irony it is true that when I think about Abstract Expressionism there is this attempt by each of those artists Newman Pollock Rothko Motherwell the graders of the abstract expressionist movement each one of them has a very distinctive individual style you can't say that there is an abstract expressionist style because it's completely dependent on the individual and so there is that idea that the painting is this manifestation of their personality their psyche and so what happens here is we have an artist who is self-consciously imitating that idea of the authentic and if you look closely the drip had become by 1955 almost a kind of emblem of the authentic experience of the authentic moment and here that is being replicated and so there is a kind of irony that's built into it and I think it kind of stepping back from buying that notion that art can be this true internal thing by virtue of copying what is supposed to be someone else's individual style there is a kind of irony a kind of self-consciousness they're kind of adopting for another purpose but then all this is laid over the found objects or objects from Rauschenberg's bed so there's something incredibly personal but also absurdist here and that's why Johnson Rauschenberg are sometimes referred to as neo Dada's because they've picked up the mantle the flag of people like to shop who are interested in irony in playfulness and if reprising of ID is and reconstructing of a vocabulary of meaning but it's true that Duchamp took on the tradition of Western art in all its seriousness and high-mindedness and I can see that year with the rauschenberg in that commenting on the sincerity and seriousness of Abstract Expressionism